For many, April 12, marked the arrival of the Easter holiday, and all the festivities that come along with the tradition. Many families gathered over delicious feasts they had spent all day cooking, while children scoured yards looking for those precious colored eggs containing treats and trinkets. For some residents of the Delmarva area, however, Easter won’t arrive until April 19.
Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Dagsboro is one of the churches that will be celebrating Easter this Sunday. As with other Christian congregations, the Orthodox Easter celebration includes special services for the Last Supper, the Passion (or crucifixion), the Burial, the Resurrection and, finally, the Ascension of Jesus on Easter Sunday.
The church explains on its Web site how the timing of Western Christianity’s Easter and that of the Orthodox Church came to differ:
“According to a Canon of the First Ecumenical Council (Nicea 325), Holy Pascha is the first Sunday after the first Full Moon which falls upon or immediately after the Spring Equinox (according to ancient reckoning March 21). In addition, this Council decreed that Pascha cannot precede or fall on the Jewish Passover (14th day of the Month Nissan). The full moon used for the purposes of calculating the date of Pascha is the 14th day of a lunar month reckoned according to an ancient ecclesiastical computation and is not the actual astronomical full moon.”
Ancient calendars added or subtracted a period called an “epact” to harmonize the lunar and solar calendars, they point out. These epacts, as calculated by the Orthodox Church, vary from those calculated by the Western churches. “In addition, the Western churches do not follow the Nicean Council’s decree that Pascha must not precede or fall on the Jewish Passover, and it is for these reasons that there is often a great variance from one year to the next between the Orthodox Church and the Western Churches concerning the date of Holy Pascha.”
Of course, the date of Easter is not the only difference between the Western and Eastern churches, which date back nearly a millennium. The Orthodox Church, also known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, or Orthodox Christianity, traces its roots back to the early period of Rome, around the time of Alexander the Great’s conquests.
The rift between Orthodox Christianity and other variations was sparked by the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Variations to the fundamentals of the faith (predominantly the distinction between Jesus and God – introduced by the Roman Catholic Church in 1054) caused a schism between Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic) churches that lasts even to the present day.
Today, although the fundamentals of the two religions, such as the Trinity and the Nicene Creed, remain the same, the two groups differ greatly on many details of faith. When Constantinople was sacked in 1204, and later fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the two branches of Christianity moved further and further apart. Orthodoxy spread north into Russia, while Roman Catholicism moved west.
“The most conspicuous characteristics of Orthodoxy are its rich liturgical life and its faithfulness to the apostolic tradition,” the church offers. “It is believed by Orthodox Christians that their church has preserved the tradition and continuity of the ancient church in its fullness.”
Today, approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians continue to worship in ways that the church draws directly from its long-ago past. And while the division between the Eastern and Western traditions of Christianity remains, that mindset is not a focus to Father John Parsells, who will be leading Easter services at Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Dagsboro this Sunday.
”Each year, Christ the Savior Orthodox Church welcomes visitors of all different ethnicities and backgrounds, Christians and non-Christians alike, to experience the solemnity and joy of the most ancient worship services celebrating the Lord’s victory of sin, death, and the devil,” said Parsells.
“From Palm Sunday, on April 12, to Pascha, on April 19, in the daily services, the faithful recall the events that followed the triumphant entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. On Thursday morning, April 16, the faithful will be transported liturgically to the Upper Chamber of the Last Supper. On that evening, they will meditate on Jesus’ last discourse with His disciples, the betrayal, the trial, the crucifixion and death,” the church offers on its Web site.
“On Friday, they will liturgically participate in the burial of Jesus Christ. At midnight Saturday night, April 18, the Resurrection Matins and Divine Liturgy (Eucharist) will be preceded by a procession announcing the joyous news of the empty tomb and the first encounters with the Resurrected Savior. The Resurrection Vespers will be celebrated at noon on Sunday, April 19.”
The schedule for the remainder of Holy Week and Pascha (Easter) at Christ the Savior Orthodox Church include:
• Holy Thursday, April 16: The Last Supper at 9 a.m. and The Passion at 7 p.m.;
• Holy Friday, April 17: The Burial at 3 p.m. and The Praises at 7 p.m.;
• Holy Saturday, April 18: Divine Liturgy at 9 a.m. and Resurrection Service beginning at 11:30 p.m.; and
• Pascha Sunday, April 19: Paschal Vespers at noon.
Christ the Savior Orthodox Church is a Pan-Orthodox Mission of the Diocese of Washington and New York of the Orthodox Church in America. Its mission was planted to serve the Delmarva area (the eastern shore of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia), the church noted.
“We welcome all Orthodox Christians who live in the area and all who visit or vacation in Delmarva. And we also extend our warm welcome to all who are searching for a church that is in unbroken continuity with the Church of the Apostles.”
Information on the numerous Easter services, or about the church itself, can be located online at www.orthodoxdelmarva.org or by calling (302) 537-6055, or e-mail Parsells at firstname.lastname@example.org. The church is located at 30838 Vines Creek Road (Route 26), in Dagsboro.